Sunday 23 September 2018

Count me in for Euros insists Hendrick

Ireland midfielder Jeff Hendrick celebrates qualification for Euro 2016 after the play-off win over Bosnia-Herzegovina last November. Photo: Reuters
Ireland midfielder Jeff Hendrick celebrates qualification for Euro 2016 after the play-off win over Bosnia-Herzegovina last November. Photo: Reuters

It was a long road to qualification for Euro 2016 for the Republic of Ireland, and Jeff Hendrick travelled on that path more than most. Only two players played more games in the qualifying stages than the Derby County man.

So the fact that he's currently sidelined and has missed his club's last three matches with a quad injury, a problem which only arose after last month's international games, which he sat out due to a shoulder complaint, will not take the 24-year-old away from his focus of making it back to fitness in time.

Hendrick watched the action in Euro 2012 from the comfort of his family home in Dublin but, having proved himself in the qualifiers, he plans to be centre-stage in France. The Rams midfielder has no doubt that he'll be ready.

"I'm convinced I'll be back fit by then. It was five weeks initially they said but I think I'll be back in four. The main thing then is to get some good training under my belt and get a few games in," said Hendrick, back in Dublin yesterday to do promotional work for the DeafHear charity.

Big prize

He has a big prize to play for with his club, Derby likely to need Hendrick should they qualify, as expected, for the Championship play-offs next month but the carrot of that flight to France is also there.

"Because it's such a big summer I know I need to stay fit and get back as soon as possible without rushing myself. That's the main thing. I'm looking forward to getting back out on the grass and upping the running every few days, whenever they let me," says Hendrick.

"Initially, you're frustrated because, at times, you don't know how long you'll be out for. But I think I cope with it well. I try and keep my head. I focus on what I need to do on the rehab side, then I go in the gym. I try and keep myself in shape as much as I can. It gives me something else to think about, rather than just the injury."

He's not quite the teacher's pet when it comes to Ireland but Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane are both big fans, evident in how they used the derby man in qualification (Hendrick played in 10 of the 12 games, only Robbie Brady and John O'Shea played more). So, has he done enough to get into the starting XI?

"Hopefully," he says quietly. "But at the end of the day, it's the manager's choice. He's got a lot of players, he's going to have 23 players going over to the tournament who are all going to want to play and who have all had good games leading up to a good season. So I'm sure it's going to be difficult for him to pick his team but hopefully I can do more in games leading up to it as well.

"The manager is pretty relaxed with me. He tells me to go out and play my own game. He knows that I'll work hard for him. I have played in a few different positions and it's good that he has trusted me to play in those formations."

He's frustrated to have missed out on the Switzerland and Slovakia games last month and is desperate to get fit again, but he's in a better place than some of his team-mates as injury has already deprived Rob Elliot and Alan Judge of a chance to play in the Euros.

"It was a terrible incident," he says of Judge's fate. "I texted him afterwards, I'm sure everyone was gutted for him. He's had such a great year, he's done well for himself, he's scored a lot of goals, he's created a lot. In the same year, he's made his debut for his country so he can look back and say he's had a great year, it's just bad luck really at the end of it."

Judge got his injury from a nasty foul, Elliot twisted his knee with no contact from an opponent, so Hendrick insists that players can't hold back in the weeks ahead to try and stay healthy for the Euros.

"I'm sure that's what people think but once you're playing, you're playing and you're involved in the matches, it goes out of your head. You just think about the game you're playing in at that moment in time. You don't really think about it," he says.

But he does think about the Euros, aware of the possible omens for Ireland from Tuesday's Champions League games where one future opponent (Kevin de Bruyne) shone but another (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) flopped.

"Like Ronaldo, what they do every game is they impact, they create or score goals. With a lot of the top players like De Bruyne and Zlatan, that seems to be what they do every game - they have a moment of magic. When we get into those games we're going to have to limit that and then we'll be successful, hopefully," he says.

Good group

"It's a good group. When you go to those tournaments, you want to play the top countries. You look at Belgium with the squad and the players they have - they're definitely one of the top teams in it. Italy are always good and Sweden have some stand-out players.

"It will be interesting playing against them. We've shown in the group that we seem to do a bit better against the top countries so hopefully we can carry that into the tournament."

Beyond this summer, there are other goals: the Premier League. "That's where I want to go now, I would love to get there with Derby, obviously, this summer, it would be a great achievement. I have played a lot of games in the Championship and now I have played a good few games internationally, the next step is to try and see how in in the Premiership, it's somewhere I do really want to go."

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